One of the advantages of having listened to and reviewed kids and family music for a decent period of time is that you get to see bands and artists grow over time.
Take, for instance, the San Diego-based band Hullabaloo.
Here's what I said about their first album for kids, Sing Along With Sam: "The downside of the album is that although band members Steve Denyes and Brendan Kremer are talented musicians, it's hard to generate a lot of musical variety with just two musicians, so there's not much to interest the listener on weaker tracks such as 'Mary Ann.'" I said other, nicer stuff, too, but I was definitely thought there was room for improvement.
Enter their latest album, the recently-released Hey, Everybody!, which in addition to Denyes and Kremer features some guest musicians providing some backup in the way of bass, electric guitar, banjo, and dobro. All of a sudden, the two-person band sounds like, well, a band. (And a good one. I mean, they were good before, but it was just the two of 'em. It sounds, at points, miles better.)
The songs haven't changed so much. You still have songs in a country-tinged folk vein, but a song like the leadoff title track, a country rocker, sounds more... complete. The band couldn't have pulled it off before just as a duo. (The original instrumental "Lucy MacLean" also shows off the band's skills.) Another fun song is "Blah, Blah, Blah," which so completely nails the experience of being a kid and not caring about what the adults are rambling on about that the adults are likely to have flashbacks and possibly feel a little guilty.
Denyes, who wrote 8 of the 12 tracks here (the other four are traditional tunes), has a full, distinctive voice that I personally think works better on some songs than others. The two sea-related songs, the amusing original "Polite Pete" and the traditional "John Kanaka," are great fits; other songs, such as "La Bamba," are less so. But, as always, my vocal preferences may not match yours...
The songs here are probably most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7 again. You can hear samples of the 29-minute album at the band's Music page or at the album's CDBaby page. Also, I just want to say that the packaging is a textbook example of how to make inexpensive album packaging look very good. It's a fairly simple cardboard case with lyrics printed inside and the few credits on the back. It's possible to do something more expensive that's nicer, of course, but the band clearly took a little time and effort into making the packaging look good, and it shows.
This album isn't perfect, but it's got enough good songs to make it worth further exploration. It's the sound of a band slowly finding their musical niche and using their strengths. I fully expect the next album to be even better, but for now Hey, Everybody! will do fine. Recommended.